History of the Nettleship Library (III): Jowett Walk

This article is part of a series.  Read the first entry here and the second here.

In October 1920 the statutes were revised so that women in the University were at long last able to matriculate and graduate with degrees.  With this revision came a large number of retrospective graduations for those women who had met all of the criteria over the previous 40 years.  A new generation of women saw the opportunity for a degree opening up and numbers of students rapidly increased.

With women officially enrolled, both the Association for Promoting the Education of Women in Oxford (A.E.W.) and the Delegacy for Women Students were abolished in 1921.  Women in the collegiate University were part of the University proper and a new body, the Delegacy for Home-Students, was established to represent the interests of the Society of Oxford Home-Students.

The first degree day for women, 14th October 1920 [St Anne's College Archive]

The final report of the 1921 Delegacy for Women Students committee had expressed concern about the future of support for the Nettleship Library.  The Home-Students were particularly reliant on the Nettleship and donated £10 in 1920 with a pledge of £40 to follow in 1921.  The future of space was also in question, as the Clarendon Building attics had officially been the home of the now disbanded A.E.W..  Letters in the St Anne’s archive from around the time show that each of the women’s colleges were committing to support the Library with St Hugh’s subscribing £15 a year and Somerville, £20.

In June 1921 the University received an anonymous donation of £1000 which, among other stipulations, was to provide accommodation for the Nettleship Library.  The University purchased Holywell House on the corner of Jowett Walk and Mansfield Road (at 1 Jowett Walk).  A number of rooms in the building were assigned to the Nettleship Library and the Society of Home-Students for a rent of £150 per year.

“It is interesting to note the order of priorities in the allocation of space: the Nettleship got two of the best rooms and a corridor; the J.C.R. got the large Music Room; administration got the back regions, kitchen and servants’ bedrooms.  Upstairs there was a Principal’s and a Tutor’s room and an office for Secretary and Treasurer.”

[p.15, St Anne’s College: An Informal History]

Opening hours at Jowett Walk were the most impressive yet, with the reading rooms available from 9am to 7pm during term.

The Geldart Law Library

Geldart - Crop
Photograph of W. M. Geldart, as currently hangs on the wall in the Geldart Room, St Anne's College Library.

In February 1922 William Martin Geldart, Vinerian Professor of English Law and Fellow of All Souls, died.  Geldart had been chairman of the Delegacy for Women Students from 1911 until its dissolution in 1921.  His widow Emily Geldart, in accordance with his wishes, bequeathed his large collection of law books and reports to the University for the use of all women students, alongside a £500 fund.  The natural place for this intercollegiate collection was with the Nettleship Library and so the two were soon housed together in Jowett Walk where what had very briefly been the History Room became the Geldart Room.  Ivy Williams (who famously became the first British woman to be called to the bar in the same year) had offered to support an extension to the building for Geldart’s books, but it proved impractical [p.22, 1922, The Ship].

The Home Students' Library

An endearing inscription by Harry Rose Barrow from 1917 in memory of his deceased wife.  Alice M. Simpson's stamp is also visible.  The same stamp is present in many of the books from her gift. [Front flyleaf of 271.042 1(5)]

In 1930 Mrs. Alice Simpson, who was the mother of a Home-Student, gave to the Society a library of books belonging to her late uncle Harry Rose Barrow.  For the first time in its 50 year history, the Society of Oxford Home-Students could be said to have had a library in its own right.  Among the 553 books were some quite rare and valuable volumes including a 1643 copy of Bede’s Ecclesiastical History and three incunabula (printed books published before 1501).  Lacking a librarian, and particularly one who could catalogue the rare books, the Society approached the Bodleian and Mr R. H. Hill compiled a list.  The rare books were lodged with John Johnson and the University Press while the majority found a home at Springfield St. Mary on Banbury Road; a hostel run by the Anglican Community of St Mary’s, Wantage.

A bookplate was designed (pictured below) and the genesis of this new library attracted a series of other small gifts.  Resident undergraduates were levied 10s. for a library fund and a library committee was established in 1932.  Finances were much stronger than they had been in the early days of the Society, not least thanks to a £10,000 Trust Fund awarded to the Home-Students in 1925 by the Cassel Education Trust.  Some reasonable provision could be made for the Home-Students’ Library to grow in conjunction with the Nettleship, and in 1933, the Society was even able to donate £50 to the Bodleian Library’s appeal fund.

SimpsonBookplateCrop - Copy
The Home-Students' Library bookplate, dated 1931.  There are many details worth noting including the ship for Ship Street; Faire sans Dire, Mrs. Johnson's family motto which was appropriated by the Society; the beaver; and the garden itself depicting the one at Jowett Walk.  Books from the original donation also carry the 'In Memoriam' pasting.

The Nettleship’s Future

The Nettleship Library had served a valuable purpose when founded, both as a central meeting place and as a shared resource for the growing body of women students who had no formal status within the University and little space of their own.  Following the resolution to award degrees to women in 1920, the women’s halls and colleges gradually began to look inward and focus on the growth of their own libraries.  As previously mentioned, the Home-Students were particularly keen to support the Nettleship and were subscribing a larger sum than the other societies in proportion to the greater use by their students.  The two letters pictured below from the treasurer at Somerville College in 1930 to Miss Bigg are an insight into the changing use of the Nettleship.  Somerville’s own library had grown and Miss Bigg’s penned-in message of 17th May states that usage of the Nettleship by Somerville students accounted for only 5% of borrowing figures.  It is no surprise to read that Somerville elected to drop their contribution to £3 a term.

Letters from the Treasurer at Somerville in 1930 [St Anne's College Archive]

In Trinity Term 1934, and in accordance with the Nettleship Library Statute formulated by the Women’s Property Committee, Congregation agreed to the transfer of ownership of the Nettleship Library to the Home-Students.  The motion was led by the Principal of Lady Margaret Hall and supported by all of the Women’s Societies.  A letter announcing the change was printed in The Times on 30th May 1934.

The Geldart Library was to retain independence and maintained as a shared resource for all women students in Oxford.  Arrangements were made for the Nettleship and Home-Students’ libraries to be amalgamated at Jowett Walk with Miss Bigg confirmed as Librarian, and Misses B. Mure and H. Spender as Sub-Librarians.


Association for Promoting the Education of Women in Oxford (1895-). Association for the Education of Women, Oxford : Home Students : Annual Report.

Delegacy of Women Students (1911-). Society of Oxford Home-Students : Annual Report.

The Fritillary (1894-) (available online: https://issuu.com/oxfordwomenscollegeshub)

Page, W., Salzman, L., Salter, H., Lobel, M., Crossley, A., & Townley, S. (1907). The Victoria history of the county of Oxford, Volume 3, The University of Oxford. http://solo.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/OXVU1:LSCOP_OX:oxfaleph010376666

Reeves, M. (1979). St Anne’s College, Oxford : An informal history. Oxford: St Anne’s College. http://solo.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/OXVU1:LSCOP_OX:oxfaleph012336645

Society of Oxford Home-Students (1911-). The Ship.  http://solo.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/OXVU1:LSCOP_OX:oxfaleph012374042

University of Oxford (1922-). Society of Oxford Home-Students : Annual Report

This article was written and researched by Duncan Jones (Reader Services Librarian) building on research by Clare White (Librarian).